Most people won’t get bored watching L’Empereur de Paris. The performances are good, the Parisian settings are fantastic … the film looks a million dollars. The action sequences are exciting.The prologue was really intriguing, especially considering the movie’s claims about it being a “true story”. I was keen to find out more about Francois Vidocq (Vincent Cassel), of whom I’d never previously heard anything about whatsoever. This former criminal apparently became the founder and first director of the crime-detection Sûreté Nationale as well as the head of the first known private detective agency. Vidocq is considered to be the father of modern criminology and of the French police department. He is also regarded as the first private detective. Sounds like the basis for a hell of a story. Unfortunately The Emperor … doesn’t really come close to telling it.
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Instead, after the above-mentioned introduction it decides to tell a tale of Vidocq, officially a wanted man, but unofficially obstinately attempting to seek an amnesty from authorities. To this end, he becomes like a free-lance vigilante contractor for police, using his past experience with underworld figures, to bring villains to justice, or execute them in the process. Regrettably we see virtually none of the skills that were going to set him apart as a criminalist. We do see some finely-choreographed action set-pieces and we do see Vidocq being aided and abetted on occasions, by both police and some of his former associates.But the story-line continually obfuscates, when it should be clarifying events. Allies become enemies and enemies become allies with little exposition. Vidocq gains an ill-fated companion in Annette and has a confusingly, enigmatic relationship, that I still can’t figure out, with a baroness played by Olga Kurylenko. The conclusion infers that he is going to lead the Surete.
Indeed this film almost seems like a Gallic attempt at a franchise – starter, which I doubt will occur. I think director Jean-François Richet would have been better advised to concentrate on telling a broader, more factual story about Vidocq, whose historical exploits give much credence to the oft-repeated statement, regarding truth, being stranger than fiction.
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